Why Veterans Organizations are Losing This Generation of Combat Vets

VFW and American Legion halls are drifting away and falling into obscurity in our modern society.  Long an established social club for America’s veterans, many are struggling to stay open and they are not absorbing large numbers of the newer generations of veterans who served between the Gulf War of 1991 and our present conflicts.  Newer veterans tend to look upon these organizations of our fathers and grandfathers as nothing more than drinking clubs where old men sit around, drink cheap domestic beer, and tell war stories that may, or may not, be true.  There is a reason for this perception among younger veterans:  It’s mostly true.

In my travels throughout the military and our veteran communities, I hear the same responses.  “I never joined.  It doesn’t interest me.” and “I am a member but I never go down to the hall because it’s just a bunch of old men drinking and playing cards.”

A few weeks ago I wrote, in a Facebook post, “If the VFW and Legion want to attract this generation of veterans, they could do that with two words – Range Day.” 

The VFW and American Legion have done great things for our veterans over the decades.  The Legion helped get my VA claim processed in a timely manner (an astounding 2 years, as opposed to 4 or 5) and I am very grateful for their assistance.  But, today’s veterans are a different breed than those who came before us.  Maybe not entirely a new breed, but a different culture and outlook on life.

Today’s veterans are active people, for the most part.  They are participating in Mud Runs and Spartan Races, 3-Gun competitions and IPSC events.  They are hiking, mountain climbing, biking, swimming, and running, for some ungodly reason.  They are continuing their education and entering a brave new world of advanced technology.  They continue to train in the same skills they acquired during their time in the military.  They are creating tactical equipment that will benefit future war fighters and they are manufacturing world-class firearms.  These are not sedentary people!  They are not satisfied with simply sitting around drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and talking about the last war.  They care about the next war.  They care about each other, and they want to help their fellow veterans who may be in need of assistance.

To attract and retain today’s veterans, these aging organizations will have to adjust to our ways, as opposed to expecting us to carry on the tradition.  Range events, physical activities, and charity / service events that help veterans in need will be a requirement for any organization hoping to benefit from new generations of combat veterans.  If they don’t adjust to us, they will eventually die and remain a footnote in post Vietnam American History.  For an organization that traces its roots to 1899, that would be a sad end to an idea that accomplished much in its early years.

Although newer organizations have emerged in recent years, they have not gained the wide-spread support needed to survive in the long run.  If younger veterans can help modify the existing VFW/AL organizations to evolve with the times, they may yet survive and continue to serve our veterans.  Until then, they will remain a social club for the old and out of date.


Ross Elder